Traveling Germany on Foot

Travel addicts know the feeling: the itch in your feet that leads you onto the road and the momentum that keeps you going.
by Nicolette Stewart

But most travelers don’t take the metaphor literally. Though we may say we’ve got an “itch in our feet,” in the days of discount airlines and high-speed trains, it is the rare traveler who sets out with a backpack, walking stick, and a sturdy pair of shoes to explore an entire country on foot.  But that is exactly what Michael Holzach did.

Deutschland Umsonst: Zur Fuß und ohne Geld durch ein Wohlstandsland  (translation: Germany for free: On foot and without money through an affluent country) is Michael Holzach’s story. Feeling that he had never really gotten to know the country of his birth, Holzach sets off with his dog Feldmann to explore Germany on foot.  And he does so without bringing a single cent.

Though Holzach admits to having a savings account to bail him out in an emergency, he staunchly refuses to use it. Instead he sleeps outside, eating day-old bread given to him by friendly bakers and sometimes sharing a meal and a roof with friendly locals who he meets along the way. His experience is reminiscent of the hobo stories of Depression-era America, romantic and adventurous in a way that travel in the age of high-speed vehicles has long stopped being. 

Holzach was born in Heidelberg in 1947 and, after studying social science in Bochum, worked as a reporter for ZEIT and, later, as a freelance writer. His first book, Das vergessene Volk (translation: the forgotten people), describes a year he spent living with hut dwellers of German ancestry in North America.

His death, which occurred in the spring of 1983, was as adventurous as the life he lived, but tragically so. Outside of Essen, Feldmann—the dog who had accompanied him on his year-long trip through Germany—fell into a sewer canal when the ground he was standing on collapsed beneath him.  In an attempt to save Feldmann, Holzach dived into the water and drowned. Feldmann survived.

by Nicolette Stewart